A little love verse from the Middle Ages

Okay, so I promised to review South African poetry on this site. This is a tangent. I apologize. I fell in love with this verse from the Carmina Burana when I first read it many years ago. The Latin rhymes, the English version doesn’t and is something of a transliteration, though it preserves the meaning well.

Ama me fideliter,

fidem meam nota:

de corde totaliter

et ex mente tota,

sum presentialiter

absens in remota.

Quisquis amat taliter

volvitur in rota.


Love me faithfully,

Mark how I trust you:

with all my heart

and with all my mind.

I am with you

even when I am far away.

Whoever loves as I do

Is turned on the wheel.

(Translation from Liner Notes to EMI Record, William Mann, 1965)

The verse is one of three from the second poem of the three Primo Vere (In Springtime) poems of the Carmina Burana that were set to music by Carl Orff in the 1930s. The 24 poems Orff set to music were written anonymously in the Middle Ages, probably by members of the clergy. The musical treatment is beautiful, so much so that I think that the meaning of the lyrics may be overlooked.

Take this verse, which could be the standard, generic love poem of any age. Except for the last line. The first seven lines speak of ardour. The eighth reveals the obsessiveness of the poet’s love, and the anguish of true passion, which we have come to identify as Romantic love. Passionate love is not gentle, as many singers and poets have observed in the intervening centuries, it has an element of torture. The surprise of the sudden turn in sentiment at the end makes it feel marvelously modern.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s